The new movie Highway explores the stories of several passengers traveling through Nepal, who end up telling them once their bus gets stranded due to striking workers and mechanical problems. Although the film was really about current Nepali culture, it has the look and feel of the Western independent movie like Crash, or Love Actually, where a complex of character studies are artistically integrated into a single narrative with a strong theme. Yet like those movies, Highway also sports a top-notch cast to support its experimental story and setting.
Nepali movies like this appear to be transitioning away from lighter commercial fare, which is particularly been centered around romance comedies or spicy action, into more complex attempts to address social and economic challenges impacting the working-class of the country. Highway tries to be a realistic presentation, with the characters providing multiple layers or shades to its depiction of Nepal's current urban situation. Whether it succeeds in this attempt can be disputed, because much of the movie relies on cinematography showing the region's landscapes or frankly odd shots, that does not clearly mesh with the storyline presented by the characters.
While the back stories of the passengers are presented in some detail, the motivations or the continuity behind their actions scenes are frequently lacking, which limits the ability to feel empathy for them. Some viewers have even regarded the abundance of characters and subplots as confusing, or unclear as to how they relate to adding to the whole movie. While the directing (by Deepak Rauniyar, who has previously excelled in shorter movies) is very sound, the script could have been better organized to clarify the story and to create more interest throughout. And the dubbed version of the film is deficient in many ways.
The standout performances by Binay Shrestha, Reecha Sharma, and Asha Magarati in relating their histories are one of the key strengths of the movie. Explaining the pain an illegal strike may cause to a struggling people is also well handled dramatically. Different aspects of how this affects people, from a bar girl worried about her daughter, to someone having an extramarital affair, to a US returnee are explored in rich detail. Some performers like Dayahang Rai, or Karma did not get to embellish their characters sufficiently, as the role was too short (or perhaps, shortened during editing) to help in filling out the composite effect intended for the characters in the movie.
Overall, Highway gives off the impression of being an art movie, which limits its potential appeal in the already relatively thin movie market that is Nepal. If the disparate stories of the different passengers portrayed was intended to be an attempt to realistically show the range of different people who can be connected by chance and circumstance, the effect is imperfectly realized. Native viewers in Nepal should appreciate the honest approach to dramatizing their country, but may not work the movie because it is just not entertaining in the sense they are used to. This could have been remedied with a tighter script and a smaller cast to clarify the story.
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